WHAT ARE THE THREE SCARIEST STORIES/BOOKS THAT YOU CAN THINK OF?
This year, as part of our Halloween celebration, I asked a whole bunch of the greatest living horror writers to tell us about the three SCARIEST books or stories that they’ve ever read. The thinking here is, if something scares THESE folks, it is probably awesome. Many authors have been kind enough to send in their picks…
Here are the rest of the suggestions that were sent in, and they make for a frikkin FEAST, people! Keep in mind that I am lumping them into a giant post since this is the last day of the H-Ween countdown (and what a fitting way to go out!). Just because some folks waxed a bit longer than others means nothing–these are all potent suggestions. They are presented in alphabetical order by the contributing writer’s last name. This list can be used two ways, as I see it: as a great list of reading suggestions, AND as a master list of great current horror writers to check out. Everyone who contributed here is well worth reading…
Let’s get this party startled…
MATTHEW M. BARTLETT (website)
“The Broadsword” by Laird Barron
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
“Mannequins in Aspects of Terror” by Mark Samuels
-these three stirred up real fear for me, and finding real fear in the pages of a book is an extraordinarily rare and valuable thing.
NADIA BULKIN (website)
The Specialist’s Hat, by Kelly Link: Who is the woman in the woods? Who is the babysitter? Why does one kid see a woman and the other see a snake? What the hell is a “specialist’s hat”? You feel that something bad is coming… but you have no idea what you’re looking for. Which, I think, is the most terrifying feeling of all.
each thing i show you is a piece of my death, by Gemma Files & Steve Barringer: There are few things more intriguing and frightening to me than psychic contagion and chain curses – especially ones that can chase you through any medium. One of those stories that probably could have birthed its own Slender Man-esque phenomena, if it had been circulated on reddit.
Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, by M.R. James: There is something wonderfully elemental about the motifs in this story – the loping “sheet ghost” like a burial shroud, the fever-dreams, the summoning whistle, the main character who just can’t leave well enough alone. I say elemental because the nerve that gets tripped when I read this story is very deep.
JEFFREY FORD (website)
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf – Crazy religio-comic horror. A true darkness pervades the story as well. There’s nothing to compare it to. A fierce creature unto itself.
Strangers by Taichi Yamada – The approach of the supernatural in this book is so quiet, you never hear it coming. Nightmare creepy.
Poltergeist: A Classic Study In Destructive Haunting by Colin Wilson – Scarier than fiction or 9/10ths fiction, it hardly matters. Capable of inducing a leave-the-light-on case of the yips.
RICHARD GAVIN (website)
THE DARK SIDE by Guy de Maupassant
MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS by Amos Tutuola
COLLECTED GHOST STORIES by M.R. James
ORRIN GREY (website)
I decided to make the exercise more interesting (and my choices easier) by limiting myself to stories that were available on Pseudopod. There’s just something more spooky about listening to a scary story than reading one…
“The Photographer’s Tale” by Daniel Mills
A quiet, creepy tale from a modern master of tales both quiet and creepy, “and within his tale itself there is another kind of darkness, a history hidden from the light of narrative: shadowed, secret, and thus ineradicable.”
“20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” by Jon Padgett
An eerie masterpiece, and a perfect example of Pseudopod’s exceptional audio production, complete with static, pops, and the scratchiness of an old record…
“Abandon All Flesh” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Possibly my favorite story by definitely one of my favorite contemporary writers, “Abandon All Flesh” melds wax museums, Jack the Ripper, and Aztec mythology to create something at once familiar and strange.
JEREMY ROBERT JOHNSON (website)
LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN by Hubert Selby, Jr.–Never before had I felt such empathy and heartbreak. After I finished the book it was difficult to look around and not see an aura of suffering on the surface of everything, no matter how hopeful, and the fear stemmed from realizing that Selby’s view of the world was deeply truthful and would color the rest of my life. His clear love for people made their inherent suffering hurt so much worse.
‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King–“Let me in, Mark. I want to play with you.” From the moment Mark realized Danny was floating outside his window I was done for. Eight years old when I read that. Thirty years later and I still can’t look out a window at night without expecting to see Danny looking back in.
EXQUISITE CORPSE by Poppy Z. Brite–Those last forty pages…I kept flipping the pages back and re-reading, giving the book a chance to change, for something– anything–else to happen, and tried not to remember how so much of those final scenes mirrored the Dahmer/Sinthasomphone case because that made it so much worse.
GABINO IGLESIAS (Amazon author page)
I read horror fiction for a variety of reasons, but being scared is not one of them. That being said, here are three very different pieces of fiction that have profoundly unsettled me:
A Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay. I think horror fiction works best when it presents you with something that you can (almost) relate to on a deeply personal level. This narrative is packed with weird elements, but the core of it is something that happens to someone every day, and that makes it truly horrific.
“The Enigma of Amigara Fault” by Junji Ito. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but this story and a Clive Barker painting titled Green Giant Trapped Underground are the only two things that have ever made me feel a strange tightness in my chest. The idea of being trapped and slowly squeezed to death is kind of as bad as it gets.
“The Window” by Brian Evenson. Evenson is one of my favorite authors, so a lot of his short stories are personal favorites. This one is one of the creepiest things I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot of creepy stuff. The atmosphere is great, the tension is amazing, and the images he gives you make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Yeah, that’s what effective horror is all about.
STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES (website)
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
“The Night They Missed the Horror Show” by Joe R Lansdale
Come Closer by Sara Gran
ANYA MARTIN (website)
BELOVED by Toni Morrison — This book confronts the horror of the African American experience in America head on in a brutal but beautiful supernatural narrative. Don’t trust any top 10 horror novel list without BELOVED.
EXPERIMENTAL FILM by Gemma Files — An alluring and bone-chilling story about a film journalist’s quest to save her son from a monster caught on lost silent footage.
A DELICATE DEPENDENCY by Michael Talbot — Lost for many years and recently reprinted by Valancourt, this page-turner about a man’s harrowing search for his savant daughter kidnapped by vampires leaves Anne Rice in the dust for accurate history, actual suspense and will make you question if it is immortality itself that makes the monster.
DAVID NICKLE (website)
“Gramma” by Stephen King. A terrifying short story about our visceral fear of smelly old people, which loses none of its punch for me even as I become a smelly old person myself.
Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol starts with the line “We are never far from those we hate.” It is about hate, and sex, and frenemies at the edge of and just underneath cold antarctic water.
“The Emperor’s Old Bones” by Gemma Files. In some ways this story is a beautiful reconsideration of Ballard. In others, it is pure, visceral (literally visceral) body horror. Heart-breaking and gut-churning all at once.
JOE PULVER (website)
Shirley Jackson We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Laird Barron The Imago Sequence
Robert W. Chambers The King In Yellow
LYNDA E. RUCKER (website)
This list was a challenge for me, as I think of being scared as a knock-off effect of horror fiction. It’s great if it happens, but horror novels and stories rarely scare me. Being scared while reading a horror story is fun (usually), but it’s far down the list of what really interests me about the horror genre. Having said that, in the spirit of the season, here are three spooky recommendations.
The Ritual by Adam Nevill—The early incidents in this book are the stuff of creepy nightmares. After that—well, I’m not sure a writer has ever distilled for me the experience of pure fear and what it must feel like to be staring your own death in the face in quite the way Nevill does here.
“Each Thing I Show You is a Piece of My Death” by Stephen J. Barringer and Gemma Files I’m a sucker for stories about films that are cursed or haunted or otherwise forbidden in some way. This artfully composed quasi-epistolary story (it’s told in the form of emails, text messages, reports, interviews, and similar exchanges) unfolds like a very sophisticated found footage, creepypasta, or an urban legend to chilling effect.
“The Mezzotint” by M.R. James—This is probably the ultimate haunted picture story, and it’s the contrast of James’s mannered style with the unspeakably ghoulish creature he describes so effectively that still produces a frisson more than 100 years after its initial publication.
JOHN CLAUDE SMITH (website)
These aren’t traditional horrors found around Halloween, but each one digs into the instinctual, primordial elements inherent to fear, visceral fear, as you’ve requested. Soooo…
“Not From Around Here” by David J. Schow.
“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”–Harlan Ellison and, story-wise,
John Carpenter’s take on The Thing totally fits. What? Not a book? Well, if you want another book/short story, how about 3b. “Dread” by Clive Barker…
SCOTT THOMAS (facebook author page)
It’s pretty hard to scare me. I’ve been known to wander cemeteries in the early dark A.M. hours, for example. I can, however, recognize scary when I see it or read it and can certainly appreciate the concepts and particulars in a work that I would term effectively frightening. Here are some standouts that come to mind…
LEGION, William Peter Blatty’s 1983 sequel to THE EXORCIST. It’s brilliant. Scary? Oh, yes.
“THE MUSIC OF ERICH ZANN” by H.P. Lovecraft. It gets wildly creepy at the end.
RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris comes to mind when I’m thinking scary books, and I’ve seen other folks who also rank this author’s work as borderline or crossover horror. I remember my heart actually speeding while I was reading this intense work.
DAMIEN ANGELICA WALTERS (website)
The Shining by Stephen King
From the fire hose that follows Danny down the hall to the woman in the bathtub in room 217 to the slow, downward spiral of Jack Torrance’s mind, this book still scares me to this day, and I’ve read it too many times to count.
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
This isn’t a horror novel, but it is horrific. Celeste Price is a teacher obsessed with fourteen-year-old boys, and at the start of the school year, she chooses one boy in particular and begins grooming him. What’s frightening is that Celeste has neither guilt nor remorse, only a single-minded focus on getting what she wants.
You by Caroline Kepnes
Similar to Tampa, You is a novel about someone who has no compunction about doing whatever he has to in order to get what, and who, he wants. In this case, she’s a customer who has the misfortune of shopping in the bookstore where he works. From there, he insinuates himself into her life and systematically removes every perceived threat to their relationship, rationalizing his every action along the way.
That does it for this year’s 31 day lollygag through October Country. I hope that you’ve found at least one new suggestion to check out from all this, and that you have a wonderful year until we meet again.
I would like to thank all of the amazing writers who contributed to the above article, as well as Mr. Barron, Mr. Mills, and Mr. Wehunt, whose essays ran the past two days.
As well, a big SUPER THANKS to Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, Linda E. Rucker, and Candice Tripp for making time for their interviews, and for their very thoughtful answers. And a special shout out to Shannon Watkins for her article on Shirley Jackson’s “The Daemon Lover”. Thank you all!!!
In closing, I want to share a couple insights, and make a promise:
1.Basically, I have come to realize that I am woefully under read when it comes to genre fiction by people of color, and also by women in general. I no longer want to suffer from White American Male Syndrome as a reading default. My promise is that I will do my best to bust out of that over the next year, and that 2017’s edition of 31 HATH OCTOBER will be much better and more inclusive, and more international. To anyone else in my predicament, I challenge you likewise. And also, while we’re at it, let’s just agree to not be defensive about any of this, yeah? Defensiveness is super boring and tends to make us all grump-filled buffoons. Who needs it? And think of the GIANT FEAST OF READING this will entail! YAHOOOO!!!
2. This needs to be said: CANADA, you are effing RULING the horror world right now, with SO many great writers and publishers. Whatever is in your water or poutine or whatever, C-Dog, it is very inspiring. Thank you! Here, have a moose:
Later, peeps! See you in 2017, with more of all things scary, creepy, terrifying, and repulsive!